Chocolate Easter Nests

I’ve been so in love with this idea since I first saw it two years ago. It has probably already circled the internet a few times, but if you haven’t, by chance, seen it, I would say this might be the one Easter idea that is worth doing, especially if you are short on time. In fact, I am thinking of having these be my kids’ Easter baskets this year–small, simple, beautiful, and ready to fill with a few candies and eggs.

This recipe comes from Alice Medrich, who I think is incredible, and I originally saw it on Food52. I used to do a lot of candy making at Easter–caramel and peanut butter eggs, molded chocolates, homemade Peep-type things, but now I really just do this and some breads. It’s the right amount. And again, so pretty.

Chocolate Easter Nests

  • 4 ounces (115 grams) dark chocolate or 6 ounces (170 grams) milk chocolate, chopped [I ended up adjusting a little according to the look, too]
  • 4 to 6 cups thin salted pretzel sticks (such as Snyder’s of Hanover)
  • Equipment: Two-quart stainless steel bowl to use as a mold
  1. To prepare the mold, press a sheet of plastic wrap across the bottom and up the sides of the bowl, as smoothly as possible and with as few air bubbles as possible, letting the ends hang over the bowl. If necessary, press another sheet into the bowl crosswise to cover any bare sides of the bowl. Tip: If you wipe the bowl with a damp sponge or cloth, it will help to adhere the plastic a little better, but be sure that chocolate never comes in contact with a moist surface. And no, foil is not better for lining the mold!
  2. Put the chocolate in another (clean, dry) medium stainless steel bowl. Bring about an inch of water to a simmer in a wide skillet. For dark chocolate, set the bowl directly in the water and adjust the heat so that the water is not quite simmering. For milk chocolate, turn the heat off under the skillet and wait 60 seconds before setting the bowl of chocolate in the water. [If you’re familiar with melting chocolate in the microwave, it’s also very doable and easy. Just microwave only in 30 second segments, stirring between each turn. It doesn’t take long and requires attention not to scorch, but it can be easier.]
  3. Stir the chocolate frequently with a clean, dry spatula until the it’s melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the water and let the chocolate cool to lukewarm, (about 90° F–this will temper the chocolate relatively well, too, so you don’t have white streaks). Pour about 4 cups of the pretzels into the chocolate. Use a rubber spatula to turn the pretzels gently in the chocolate until they are completely coated; add more pretzels if you can, as long as you can get them coated. It’s okay if some of the pretzel shows through the chocolate, but they should be coated and the chocolate should still be sticky. Continue to turn the chocolate-coated pretzels in the bowl until the chocolate seems a little thicker and cooler, but not yet starting to set.
  4. Use your fingers to arrange the pretzels in the bottom and up the sides of the lined mold.
  5. Refrigerate to set the chocolate. To unmold, lift the plastic liner out of the bowl. Set the basket down on a serving platter and peel the plastic gently away from the pretzels. Serve filled with chocolate truffles, stemmed strawberries, or other treats.

Chocolate Thumbprint with Salty Caramel

Chocolate Thumbprint with Caramel
Here’s one of a few new favorites from Christmas this year. Actually, I should correct that to say that this was the absolute favorite of my daughter Lucy and two or three others who sampled the whole array. I loved that it kept it’s shape perfectly, and showcased both the pretty sparkling sugar and the caramel. This little cookie is perfect for entertaining or traveling, since it’s stiff enough to hold its shape. It’s also unique and pretty and very tempting! This recipe comes from the December edition of Sunset magazine. Note: this isn’t the easiest caramel recipe to work with, so if you’ve never made caramel before, you might want to use pre-made caramels instead.

Chocolate Thumbprint with Salty Caramel

1 c. flour
Generous 1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 t. salt
1/2 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 c. granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 T. heavy whipping cream
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 c. sparkling sugar or powdered sugar for rolling, or just leave plain
1 c. granulated sugar
6 T. unsalted butter, cut into tbsp.-size chunks
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/4 t. fine sea salt, plus about 1/2 tsp. for sprinkling
1. Make cookies: Preheat oven to 350°. Sift flour, cocoa powder, and salt into a bowl. In another bowl with a mixer on medium speed, beat butter and granulated sugar until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low and add egg yolk, cream, and vanilla. Gradually beat in flour mixture.

2. Scoop dough into rounded 1-tsp. portions and roll into balls, then roll balls in sparkling or powdered sugar to coat. Place 2 in. apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. With end of a thick-handled wooden spoon, gently press an indentation into center of each cookie. Bake until cookies are just set, about 10 minutes. (The depressions tend to fill in a bit as they bake, so as soon as they’re out of the oven, give them another press with the spoon if necessary.) Slide parchment with cookies onto cooling racks and let cool. If you’ve used powdered sugar, sift a little more onto the cookies.

3. Make caramel: Put granulated sugar in a large nonstick frying pan; spread evenly. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Sugar will form clumps but eventually will melt and turn into a dark, amber-colored liquid, about 6 minutes. As soon as it’s liquefied, reduce heat to medium-low. Add butter and stir until incorporated. Stirring constantly, drizzle in cream. Boil 1 minute, stirring, then remove from heat and stir in 1/4 tsp. sea salt. Scrape into a bowl and let cool completely.

4. Assemble cookies: Spoon about 1/4 tsp. caramel into each cookie, then sprinkle with a few grains of sea salt.

*You’ll have more caramel than you need, but that’s never a bad thing–it’s great on ice cream. Don’t be tempted to cook a half-batch of caramel, as it won’t cook right and will seize up.

Make ahead: Caramel, up to 5 days, chilled (let soften at room temperature before spooning into cookies). Baked cookies, up to 1 week, chilled airtight.

Christmas Cookies & Candies

Sometimes I feel like I’m hosting cookie tryouts all year long to discover the perfect holiday cookies. But, inevitably, the bulk of trial and error happens in December, as I try and get the right colors and flavors in little boxes that we give to family and friends. Over the last ten or so years, the following cookies and candies have become my favorite, both for variety of taste and appearance, although I try plenty of new ones every year and I already have some I’m excited to post as soon as I get them photographed. Here are some great crowd pleasers! Merry Christmas!

White Christmas Dream Drops
Mint Chocolate-Covered Cookies
Brown Sugar Rugelach
Peanut Butter Toffee Cookies
Pink & White Pinwheels
White Chocolate + Citrus Cookies
Chocolate Crinkle Cookies
Mexican Wedding Cookies
Ginger Spice Cookies

Peanut Brittle
Favorite Caramels
Egg Nog Fudge
Candied Orange and Hazelnut Bark

Christmas box

Let the festivities begin!



Candied Orange Peel

candied orange peel
I’ve tried a few recipes for candied orange peel, and this is the one I like the best. It’s simple and it’s consistently good, though I have to admit I slightly botched it this last time, which is unfortunate since the photo is of this time. You’ll note the extra sugar on the orange peels–I let it go a second too long, and I must have had some sugar in the pot that hadn’t dissolved, hence my small problem. Luckily, it still tastes fine. This recipe comes from a great little book called Brittles, Barks, and Bonbons. Some more reasons I love making candied orange peel: you’re making something out of a product you would otherwise throw away, it can be stored for a long, long time in your fridge, and then I can make my favorite chocolate bark (see my last post). Win win, win.

Candied Orange Peel

5 medium navel oranges, preferably organic (you might also want to try a mix of grapefruit and lemon peels, too)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water

1. Scrub the oranges. Slice the stem end off the orange and place the cut end on a cutting board. Make vertical cuts, about 1 inch apart, all the way through the peel. Carefully peel off the scored sections of rind. With a sharp paring knife, trim away as much of the white pith from the peel as you can. Cut each portion of peel lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wide strips.

2. Place the orange peels in a small pan and add enough cold water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Drain the peels and set aside.

3. Place the pan over medium-low heat and add the 1 1/2 cups each sugar and water. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the orange peels to the simple syrup and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and translucent, about 40 minutes.

4. Place a wire cooling rack over a rimmed baking sheet lined with wax paper. Use a slotted spoon or tongs to transfer the peels to the rack. Let stand until still slightly tacky but almost dry, about 1 hour.


Candied Orange & Hazelnut Bark

Orange Hazelnut Bark

When I made holiday treats this year, I made a huge batch of candied orange peel, hoping to make panettone and other traditional breads. Well, all those breads never happened, leaving me with a good-sized amount of candied orange peel, which we enjoy on its own, a bit, but when I threw it on this bark I was making, we loved it. This simple candy has been repeated I think three times in the last couple weeks, and I can’t get enough. It takes about 20 minutes to put together, and then it’s pretty and delicious and has interesting flavors. I made it for book group and for a little gathering of friends, and it’s disappeared first of everything, both times. Definitely delicious.

Candied Orange & Hazelnut Bark 

8 oz. dark chocolate, my favorite are the semi-sweet bars of chocolate at Trader Joe’s, bought in one pound sizes
1/3 c. candied orange peel (I’ll post my favorite recipe, if you’ve never tried it)
1/3 c. hazelnuts
2 pinches of fleur de sel or sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350. Lay the hazelnuts on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Line another baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside for the chocolate. Once the oven is preheated, toast the nuts until fragrant and lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes. Let cool and then chop coarsely. Set aside.

Meanwhile, finely shave the chocolate with a knife. In a small glass or plastic bowl, melt half of the chocolate in the microwave at 30 seconds. Remove and stir as long as you can. If the chocolate doesn’t continue to melt as you stir, microwave it again for 20 seconds. Then, remove and stir until smooth.

Add a handful of the reserved chocolate shavings and stir until incorporated. Repeat until you have used all the shaved chocolate. It should take you about 5-10 minutes to add and stir. (This is one method of tempering chocolate. There’s a couple of ways to do this, so if you don’t like this one, just google another way!) By the time all of the chocolate is incorporated, your chocolate should be about 90-91 degrees, which is tempered. If you want to skip this all and quickly melt all your chocolate, the chocolate will taste fine, but could have white streaks or bubbles on the surface.

Pour the tempered chocolate onto the parchment-lined sheet and spread with a spatula to a thickness of about 1/4″ inch deep. Working quickly, sprinkle first the nuts, then the candied orange peel, and then the salt over the surface of the chocolate. Either set aside at room temperature or in the fridge to harden. When ready to serve, break the bark into wrist-sized portions. Can keep for 2 weeks in a airtight container, but mine has never lasted longer than one evening!

Egg Nog Fudge

KAF photo!

KAF photo!

I loved this last year! Can’t wait to make it again for our treat-giving. This recipe is from King Arthur Flour.

Egg Nog Fudge

2 1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. corn syrup
1 3/4 c. heavy cream
7 T. unsalted butter
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. eggnog flavor (I found this at a specialty shop, like Orson Gygi in Salt Lake City)
1/2 t. nutmeg
1 1/2 c. chopped white chocolate, or white chocolate chips

1) Grease a 9″ square cake pan with parchment; grease the parchment. 

2) Combine the sugar, corn syrup, cream, butter, salt, eggnog flavor, and nutmeg in a deep, narrow (6- to 8-quart) heavy-bottomed pot.

3) Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until smooth — the sugar should have dissolved, with no grittiness in the bottom of the pan.

4) Boil until the mixture reaches 235°F to 240°F on a candy or digital thermometer, about 15 to 20 minutes. (Remember, 2 degrees lower for every 1000 feet above sea level, if this applies to you. I’m at an altitude of 4500 ft, so I want to only boil to 226-231 degrees F).

5) Remove the pot from the heat and add the chocolate a handful at a time, stirring until smooth. Note: As soon as the chocolate has melted, stop stirring! If you continue to stir, it’ll separate and become grainy.

6) Pour the mixture into the parchment-lined pan — you’ll want to do this fairly quickly, as once it starts to cool, the fudge will be much harder to pour.

7) Cool the fudge overnight, until firm. If it’s in a large pan, cut it into serving-size pieces. Wrap airtight, and store at room temperature for several days.

Yield: about 64 pieces

Brown Bag Caramel Popcorn

Brown Bag Caramel PopcornI couldn’t believe this recipe would work, but I was in a time crunch, so it was worth a try. Amazingly, it works! And it’s delicious! I first made it for my Lucy to take for a class treat, but I have since made it several times, including for 4th of July firework shows. It takes a little less than half an hour, start to finish, and is really as delicious as other, more time-intensive, versions.  This recipe is adapted from, but I’ve changed it here to reflect many of the great suggestions from the readers, as well as eliminate the margarine. 

Brown Bag Caramel Popcorn

8 quarts popped popcorn
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. butter
1/4 c. light corn syrup (honey can also work)
1/2 t. salt
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t. baking soda

Spray the inside of a large (grocery-sized) brown bag with cooking spray. Place the popped popcorn into the bag. Set aside.

In a 2 quart casserole dish, or other heat-proof glass dish, combine the brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, salt and vanilla.

Now to the potentially tricky part. The original directions say to heat for 3 minutes in the microwave, then take out and stir until well blended. Return to the microwave, and cook for 1 1/2 minutes. Remove from microwave, and then stir in the baking soda, but I thought it would burn in my microwave (as other cooks had noted it did in their microwave), so I adapted it to microwaving it first for 90 seconds on high, then stirring it to make sure it’s completely combined, then I microwaved it for another 90 seconds on high, and then added the baking soda. I would recommend going with the lower time amount first, because you can always cook it longer, if needed.

Pour syrup over the popcorn in the bag. Roll down the top once or twice to close the bag, and shake to coat the corn. Place bag into the microwave, and cook for 1 minute and 10 seconds (I only did 1 minute). Remove, shake, flip the bag over, and return it to the microwave. Cook for another 1 minute and 10 seconds (again, I just did 1 minute). Dump the popcorn out onto waxed paper, and let cool until coating is set. Store in an airtight container.

Basic Gooey Caramel (for filling candy)

Carrot Caramel GoodI checked out a beautiful book from the library called Hand-crafted Candy Bars. I don’t know that I will ever do a full-on candy bar, like the authors do so well, but I used the basic caramel for my Easter chocolate, and really loved how gooey and soft it is. So, I’m keeping this one. Also, the caramel had hardened so much after I put it over the ice and then let it rest 2 minutes, that next time, I don’t think I will let it rest, like the recipe advises. Even so, reheating it over the stove for a bit while mixing it worked fine, and I used it without letting it refrigerate.

Basic-Batch Caramel

3 c. ice
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. water
2 T. corn syrup
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. butter
1 T. vanilla extract
1/2 t. salt

  1. Put the ice in a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Stir the mixture until it resembles wet beach sand. Use a moist paper towel to wipe out any sugar that clings to the inside of the pan. (This keeps the crystals from getting into your syrup, which will make it gritty rather than smooth.) Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil without stirring. Add the corn syrup and cook for about 8 minutes, or until it first browns around the edges and then turns entirely the color of honey. When the mixture reaches about 310F on a candy thermometer, carefully place the pan in the bowl of ice for a few seconds (really, just a few! maybe 2 seconds is enough) to stop the caramel from cooking.
  3. Remove the caramel from the ice but let it cool for another 2 minutes, then add the cream, butter, vanilla, and salt, and stir with a wooden spoon. (Be careful! The still-hot syrup sizzles!) If some of the caramel has hardened on the bottom of the pan, return the pan to the stove and melt the bits into the mixture over low heat. Let the sauce cool a little more, then refrigerate for about 1 hour before using in candy-bar production.
  4. Store in a covered bowl or an airtight container in the refrigerator for 1 week or in the freezer for 2 months.

Homemade Black Licorice


I don’t know why recipes like this appeal to me so much, but I think it was less than twenty-four hours after seeing this recipe from Saveur that I was making it. It was so much fun. If you’ve made caramels before, this recipe isn’t nearly as hard, but if you have never made any candy before, know it might take a time or two to get it right. You’ll need a candy thermometer, but otherwise, no other special equipment. Try it! It’s fun! And really great to eat, too. 

Homemade Black Licorice

8 T. unsalted butter, plus more
1 c. sugar
½ c. dark corn syrup
½ c. sweetened condensed milk
¼ c. blackstrap molasses
⅛ t. kosher salt
¾ c. whole-wheat flour (mine was roughly ground, which accounts for the image)
1½ T. anise extract (available at Olive Nation or Day’s Market 🙂
1½ t. black food coloring

1. Line a glass 8″-square baking dish with parchment; grease. Bring butter, sugar, syrup, milk, molasses, and salt to a boil over high heat in a 2-qt. saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer until temperature reaches 265°. Remove from heat and stir in flour, extract, and coloring; pour into pan. Chill until firm, 30–45 minutes.

2. Invert onto a cutting board, peel of paper, and cut into ¼”-thick ropes; twist to shape. Place on baking sheets; chill 20–30 minutes until set.

Yields about 3 dozen.

Favorite Peanut Brittle

Peanut BrittleNow that it’s Christmastime, and I’m feeling a little bit better from morning sickness, I’ve started a bit of holiday baking. I love this recipe of Martha’s for peanut brittle (she has several!). I like the lift that the baking soda gives, and I really like that it uses salted and roasted peanuts, since those are the easiest to find. Peanut brittle is such an easy candy to make–as long as you have a candy thermometer–but don’t be discouraged if a batch doesn’t work out–it just happens that way from time to time. This recipe comes from the December 2010 issue of Everyday Food.

Peanut Brittle

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. light corn syrup
  • 1/2 t. coarse salt
  • 2 T. unsalted butter
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 3 c. salted dry-roasted peanuts (about 1 pound)
  1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment and lightly coat with cooking spray (I usually use a silpat–it makes cleanup super easy). In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 1 cup water. Bring to a rapid simmer over medium-high and cook until deep golden, about 20 minutes (295 degrees on a candy thermometer at sea level. One degree less for every 500 feet above sea level you’re cooking at). Remove pan from heat. Stir in butter, baking soda, and peanuts (mixture will foam). Stir until mixture is no longer bubbling and caramel is smooth, 1 minute. Transfer to sheet and spread with a lightly greased spatula. Let cool until firm, 15 minutes. Break into pieces.